Starting Point: Omaha, NE
Destination: Bernalillo, NM
Miles Driven: 952
I had set my alarm for 5:30, but the day truly began at 3 AM, and not in a fun way. I awoke to the sound of coarse obscenities shouted at full volume. In the room across from mine a couple was engaged in a bitter, hysterical argument. The cries of “FUCK YOU!” carried throughout the hallway, and you could feel the tension emanating from the room like a radioactive rod. I watched from the peephole, curious and a bit frightened. It soon became clear that this was some sort of serious domestic incident, and I came to the anxious realization that I might have to intervene.
Luckily somebody beat me to the punch. A young man emerged from his room, naked but for a pair of shorts, accompanied by two young girls. This Good Samaritan knocked on the door and asked if everything was all right. The Woman – whose sonorous insults made up the majority of the noise – answered and basically told him to fuck off. The Good Samaritan’s female companions (who, I learned over the course of the conversation, were 17) started clapping back at the Woman and she got into a shouting match with them too. Sensing that the situation was spiraling further out of control, the Good Samaritan told his female companions to return to the room. The Woman closed the door and the fight continued, but by now the Good Samaritan had called the police, holding the phone up to the door to provide evidence of the calamity. He claimed he could hear the Man hitting the Woman. I can’t confirm that detail 100% but whatever the case the whole situation was clearly fucked up and these people needed to be separated.
The Omaha Police arrived about 10 minutes later. The Good Samaritan tried to explain the situation in greater detail and even showed video of the argument he recorded on his phone. The cops had no interest in him and basically just brushed him aside as they knocked on the door and dealt with the situation themselves. The pulled the Woman outside into the hall and I listened as one of them interviewed her. She doggedly insisted that it was just a fight, that there was no abuse and she absolutely would not press charges. A tale as old as time.
Eventually the police left without making any arrests. The argument continued, albeit at a lower volume this time. The intermittent obscenities continued for about 30 or 40 minutes before things slowly began to wind down. I have no idea what the true nature of this situation was. I feel truly bad for this woman and hope that somehow, somewhere down the line she’s able to rise above her circumstance and that both of these people get whatever help they need in order to live just and wholesome lives.
Needless to say I didn’t really get back to sleep that night. I suppose this is what I get for insisting on cheap motels as my primary mode of lodging through this journey. But it’s a good reminder that this is how a large swath of the population lives and perhaps there’s some good in my bearing witness to it.
Anyway, all of this meant that I clocked in about 3 hours of sleep the night before a drive that I already knew would be especially savage. Part of the problem is that there’s simply no clean way to get from the Midwest to central New Mexico. Any route you take is going to off the interstate and down a series of serpentine, one-lane rural highways that are often in poor shape and seldom grace a town large enough to sustain a decent gas station. And that’s to say nothing of the terrain, which for the most part is flat, barren, and utterly, utterly dull.
All in all I spent about 14 and a half hours slogging through the middle of the country, first traveling south through Eastern Nebraska, then crossing almost the entire length of Kansas before cutting through a chunk of Southeastern Colorado until I finally arrived in Bernalillo, New Mexico (a suburb of Albuquerque) via I-25. My GPS took me through some highly obscure roads and localities along the way – especially in Eastern Kansas and Colorado – parts of the country so lonely and desolate that it’s astonishing to think that anyone actually lives there.
This drive really pushed me to my mental limit. There were times when I felt the urge to simply pull over and crash at the nearest settlement, even though my Bernalillo motel was already booked. In the past I would have tried to boost my endurance through performance-enhancing drugs (namely Adderall) but these days I’m older and trying to live a cleaner life, so I did this one the honest way. I pulled it off without a hitch but you better believe I was conscious of just how fucked I’d be if I blew a tire in the middle of the Colorado desert.
In all honesty though, this wasn’t the worst drive of my ghostly career, it was just the first rough day of this trip so far. Along the way I tried to think about all the really bad driving days I’ve had (both for Ghost on the Highway and otherwise), like the time I almost ran out of gas near Fort Bragg, CA or the time I got caught in a vicious rainstorm in Texas.
I came up with 5 Things that make for a truly miserable drive:
- Long Travel Time (i.e. 12 hours or more) – check. Like I said, 14.5 hours is a truly maddening shift. I think my absolute record is just over 15 hours driving from Fort Collins, CO all the way to Madison (and that drive SUCKED) but at least I had Adderall that time. That stuff makes the mental component of the drive so much easier, even though it’ll leave you feeling frazzled and miserable the next day.
- Barren Scenery – check. I’m sorry but the flat plains of Central and Western Kansas are just not easy on the eye (with some exceptions; I was quite impressed as I passed over Tuttle Creek Lake early in the day). The sad truth is that most of the middle of the country is just like that: oblate, dry, and barren of both natural and man-made treasures.
- Desolate, Rural Highways – check. This route took me through so many arcane, winding roads that were not designed for anything apart from tractors and grain trucks. This was especially true in Colorado, where I snaked my way through literally hundreds of miles of virtually-empty desert without passable services. Since I was unfamiliar with the terrain I often simply didn’t know how long it would take me to get to a real town; I think that anxiety might be one of the most taxing aspects of all of this. At least with the Federal Interstate system you know you’ll be taken care of every 50-90 miles at most. Not so in the boonies. The good news with respect to this drive was that I spent the last 2 hours or so on the I-25, which did a lot to soothe the pent-up frustration I felt after my hours in Colorado obscurity.
- Bad Roads/Too Much Construction – check. I dealt with both of these twin terrors on this drive, although not as bad as some trips I’ve taken. During part of the Colorado stretch the asphalt was so broken and bumpy that my car rocked incessantly, and I prayed I wouldn’t flatten my tire at a pothole. During another portion, I sat for literally 15 minutes on a Nebraska highway that had been converted into a one-lane road due to construction. I don’t want to blame the construction crew for this – they’re magnificent people doing highly necessary work – but in the moment I could feel nothing but frustration.
- Bad Weather – here’s where I got lucky. For most of the day it was partly cloudy and not too hot. As I got deeper into the Colorado/New Mexico stretch I could see some dark, nasty clouds in the distance and I feared being overtaken by storms. But thankfully the worst I experienced was some intermittent, moderate rain, which actually helped to clear some of the bugs off my windshield. Driving South on I-25 I actually sped up to outrace a giant storm I could see coming from my left. It worked, but if I had spent 10 more minutes at that McDonald’s in Colby, KS I might have gotten caught.
So yeah, this was tough, but not the absolute worst drive I’ve endured. I’m here now in gorgeous, sunny New Mexico, where I can look out the window of this local cafe and see the majestic blue Sandia mountain in the background. I’ll be here for the next two days, catching up with my grandparents and some friends. I’ll probably hit some greater turbulence on the road, but I’m going to do my best to try and avoid another marathon drive like yesterday.
I’m getting too old for this shit.